Knowing Your Neighbor

(Written in my notebook on March 9th)

For the past couple of months, I’ve been trying to learn how to identify trees and other flora. I’ve gotten to where I can recognize some, though a number of plants still elude me, and for some reason I’m constantly mixing up ash and elm… but I’ve noticed that walking in a forest, while enjoyable before, takes a whole new feeling now.

I know the trees with a more familial connection than before; something akin to “Oh hey, there’s Uncle Oak” or “Greetings, Grandmother Maple, I can tell you’re ready for spring”. It’s kind of like the difference between going to a gathering where I share interests with people but don’t actually know anyone well, and going home. With my senses tuned to nature I find that I notice more, have a better understanding of why things are the way they are, where certain plants are likely to be found, what things mean…

Cherry has very distinctive “burnt potato chip” bark that helps me to identify it…

I’m beginning to feel a lot more comfortable going to the woods on my own, and I’m starting to know more of my neighbors of the forest. However, there are also times when even a rustling leaf will startle me (“phew, it’s only you li’l chipmunk”), reminding me that I still have a long way to go until I feel like I truly belong in nature, like I am part of the forest, still a lot of non-human beings to get to know. Plus, as with any relationship, I need to work to maintain the relationships I’ve already begun. It takes time and effort to foster a bond, to develop the level of knowing, that feeling of closeness and belonging that I so desire.

One of the chipmunks – probably as anxious about my presence as I was of his.

As I’ve gotten older and transitioned to adulthood, I’ve realized that in general, other people are no longer going to force me to use my time in certain ways. Ultimately now it’s up to me whether I’ll spend my hours playing, learning, connecting, exploring, or something else – and my peers are experiencing the same freedoms and choices.

I’m glad I’ve decided to get to know my (forest-dwelling) neighbors, and that’s one set of relationships I hope will not fade over time.

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